Understanding E-Cigarettes

E-cigarettes have become a popular form of smoking. People may use these devices in place of regular cigarettes. Or they may use them to try to quit smoking altogether.

What are e-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are devices that allow users to breathe in liquid that has nicotine in it. They are also known as electronic nicotine delivery systems. They may look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Some are even made to look like everyday items, such as flashlights or pens.

How do you use an e-cigarette?

An e-cigarette has 3 parts. It has a battery, a heating device, and a cartridge or tank. The part that heats up is called an atomizer. To use it, you put in a cartridge or fill the tank with a liquid. This liquid contains nicotine. It may also have other chemicals and flavorings. When the e-cigarette is puffed, the atomizer heats up. It turns the liquid in the tank or cartridge into a vapor (aerosol). You then breathe in this vapor. This is called vaping. It mimics real cigarette smoking.

Who is using e-cigarettes?

More and more people are puffing on e-cigarettes. Current and former smokers of tobacco are heavy users. So are middle and high school students. In fact, e-cigarettes are now students’ preferred tobacco product. Marketing plays a large part. Flavors—such as coffee, mint, and cherry—may tempt young people to try these products. The same marketing strategies used to addict people to tobacco cigarettes are now being used with e-cigarettes.

Can e-cigarettes help smokers quit?

People in favor of e-cigarettes say they may help smokers kick the habit. But more research is needed to find out how well they work as a stop-smoking aid—and how safe they are. Users are still exposed to nicotine. And some smokers use both normal cigarettes and e-cigarettes. They may choose an e-cigarette in places where other smoking products are banned.

Experts worry that a smoker who uses e-cigarettes may not try other, proven ways to quit. A number of quit-smoking tools are available that have been approved by the FDA. If you are trying to quit smoking, see your healthcare provider for help.

Are they safer than traditional cigarettes?

Little research has been done on e-cigarettes. Because of this, experts don't know how much nicotine or other possibly harmful chemicals users are inhaling. They also don't know the short- and long-term risks of vaping.

But e-cigarettes may seem safer than other forms of smoking. Users don’t breathe in burning tobacco and its many toxins. These include tar, ammonia, and arsenic. But they may still be exposed to other harmful substances. The vapor may have heavy metals and chemicals like formaldehyde in it. Flavorings may also hide cancer-causing chemicals and other toxins. It’s also not clear if the vapor puffed into the air puts nonsmokers exposed to it at risk for health problems.

Users of e-cigarettes are still getting nicotine. This is a very addictive substance. That ability to addict is a special concern for young users. Teens who get addicted to e-cigarettes may switch to regular cigarettes. This can then lead to the serious health problems caused by smoking tobacco.

At high doses, nicotine can cause dizziness and vomiting. Users who refill their own cartridges are at a greater risk for unsafe levels of the drug. Nicotine poisoning is a big concern in children. Children younger than 5 have been harmed after accidentally coming into contact with the nicotine liquid.

Another problem with e-cigarettes is that they can explode in a person's pocket or face. This has happened nearly 200 times through 2016. These explosions have been described as "flaming rockets" and can cause severe injuries.

Are there any laws against using e-cigarettes?

The FDA recently ruled to regulate e-cigarettes. They are considered a tobacco product. Makers of these devices have to follow certain rules on safety and advertising. They also can’t directly sell or market e-cigarettes to minors.  

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